Transcript/Biography

Up
Down

"Of course, hybrid corn came in about 1930. Actually the first hybrid seed corn was produced in 1926 and sold in 1927. That was a very, very small scale. By 1930 it was beginning to find a niche in farmers' fields. My dad and other farmers who raised corn saved seed from their field from one year to plant in the next year. My dad had a box on the side of his wagon. When he harvested corn by hand, when he'd find a nice ear that he thought might be good for seed, he'd put it in the box. Essentially, it was free. So that was quite a change when they went to hybrid corn, when they had to buy the seed and pay a fairly good price for it.
     "In the middle of the Depression. Yeah, I suppose it was probably in 1936, or somewhere in there, when hybrid corn really took off. What some of the old-timers have told me is, the reason why it was so successful, it was also in the middle of the drought. Hybrid corn did better under drought stress, so much better than the open-pollinated varieties that they had previously used, that it just sold itself very, very rapidly. In the period of about 10 years, this country went from essentially very little hybrid corn to nearly 100 percent. Maybe 90 percent hybrid corn in the period of 10 years. That was a very remarkable, remarkable revolution in agriculture.
     "My dad used, I think, had a bag of hybrid corn that he planted probably in 1936. I don't remember the year, but I do remember when it happened quite vividly. The difference between that portion where he planted the hybrid versus his open-pollinated variety was so striking that he never planted any seed from his own field again. It wasn't something that he weighed. He didn't weigh it - he could tell the difference. It yielded so much more and stood better, making it easier to harvest, that he never planted his open-pollinated seed again.
     "Twenty percent is large. I mean, economically you can't ignore that. The average yield of corn in the United States at that time was 25 bushels per acre. And 20 percent of 25 is five bushels per acre. Now, that is not a lot. You don't think of five bushels as a lot. But five bushels was enough to do it, to make that shift. Some farms, I suppose, were producing more than that. But five bushels per acre on a national average was enough the change the way farmers grew corn.
     "The average yield now in the United States is about 130 [bushels per acre]. So we've increased a little over 100 bushel per acre in how many years? Since 1930, going on 75 years, pretty close."

Stan Jensen on Hybrid Corn

Close Window
   

Other Excerpts from Stanley Jensen's Interview:

Killing Grasshoppers
Pests Thrive In Dry Climate
Crop Yeilds
All in the Same Boat
Working for the WPA
Growing Up Poor
Radio, Isolation and Entertainment
Getting Electricity
The Amenities of Home
Ethnic Communities
Keeping the Dust Out